ROBOTS could be used to help care for the elderly after trials revealed they can improve mental health and combat loneliness.
Researchers found care home residents who interacted with a bot called Pepper saw a significant improvements in their mental well being.
The study, by the University of Bedfordshire, Middlesex University and Advinia Health Care, is the first time researchers have collaborated to explore the possibility of developing “culturally competent” robots.
After two weeks of interacting with the robot there was a noticeable positive impact on loneliness among users, and the system had a significant positive impact on participants’ attitudes towards technology.
The study’s lead author Dr Chris Papadopoulos said: “This study is ground-breaking because it is the largest ever investigation into the use of autonomous social robots for older adults in care settings.
“The results show that using the Caresses artificial intelligence in robots such as Pepper has real potential benefit to a world that is witnessing more people living longer with fewer people to look after them.
“Poor mental health and loneliness are significant health concerns and we have demonstrated that robots can help alleviate these.”
Irena Papadopoulos, professor of transcultural health and nursing at Middlesex University, ensured the robots were able to respond to the needs and preferences of older people.
“Socially assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve some pressures in hospitals and care homes,” she said.
“No-one is talking about replacing humans – the evaluation demonstrates that we are a long way from doing that – but it also reveals that robots could support existing care systems.”
Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, surgeon, founder and chairman of Advinia Health Care, one of the largest providers of dementia care in the UK, said: “Robots were tested and improvements in functionality made following trials at Advinia care homes.
“This is the only artificial intelligence that can enable an open-ended communication with a robot and a vulnerable resident.
“We are working towards implementing this into routine care of vulnerable people to reduce anxiety and loneliness and provide continuity of care.
“Now we are working towards bringing the robot into routine care, so it can be of real help to older adults and their families.”